HIROSHIMA — Some victims of radioactive “black rain” that fell on Hiroshima and surrounding areas in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. atomic bombing of the city in 1945 are still fighting for the right to receive free health care as provided to A-bomb survivors recognized by the government.
Takato, a 79-year-old former high school teacher, visited the home of Hitoshi Mukai, 77, in Hiroshima on April 9. Mukai studies the history of movements related to radioactive black rain at Hiroshima City University graduate school. At Mukai’s study, Takato found 163 brown envelopes, some with stains, stored in five cardboard boxes. Takato opened up one of the envelopes marked in red as “testimony.”
The documents contained testimony from black rain victims collected by the late Tsuneyuki Murakami, an activist and hibakusha himself who devoted his time from the 1970s to plead to the Japanese government about the effects of the black rain. Murakami, who died in 2011 at age 93, had visited communities at the prefectural border to get testimony from locals about the radioactive rain.
Impressed by the piles of documents, Takato said, “Astonishing. You can’t write in this much detail without actually listening intently to their experiences.”
Hiroshima residents exposed to A-bomb ‘black rain’ developed health problems: lawyers via The Mainichi (October 16, 2019)
The state has issued certificates for A-bomb survivors who were in the designated area near the epicenter. These certificates enable them to receive free medical care. As the actual health damage caused by the radioactive black rain remains unclear, however, the central government in 1976 named a 19-kilometer by 11-kilometer area northwest from the state-designated radiation exposure area “a special health checkup zone.” Those who were in this zone are subject to free health checkups, and if they develop illnesses involving at least one of 11 kinds of disorders that the government lists as potentially radiation-related, such as cardiovascular diseases, they are given the certificates.
While the Hiroshima prefectural and municipal governments have requested the state to expand the scope of this zone, the central government has not accepted their request saying that there is no scientific evidence.
In November 2015, the plaintiffs sued the two local bodies that have been commissioned by the state to screen applications for A-bomb survivors’ certificates. Based on the locations of their residence at the time of the bombing and their experiences, they claim that they were in situations where they could have been affected by radiation, with some of them saying that they developed cancer and other diseases.
The state, on the other hand, is demanding the court drop the case, arguing that subjective concerns alone does not grant people the right to such care.
Experts say these plaintiffs need to be given relief measures soon as their illnesses were caused by internal exposure to radiation. The legal team plan to present a case during a hearing of witnesses scheduled on Oct. 16.
◇Sharp drop in number of Hiroshima ‘black rain’ support program users via The Mainichi (August 7, 2019)
The prefectural and municipal governments have consistently demanded the black rain areas be expanded, and Hiroshima Mayor Matsui referred to the issue in the Peace Declaration on Aug. 6 this year. After the peace memorial ceremony held that day, a participant at a gathering to listen to requests from representatives of hibakusha groups pleaded, “We urge the central government to scramble to provide relief by facing up to reality, instead of waiting for the black rain victims to die.” Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Takumi Nemoto, however, did not change his position on the issue.
At the Hiroshima District Court, a lawsuit filed by 88 plaintiffs who claim to have been exposed to black rain is pending as they seek to receive A-bomb survivors’ certificates and other assistance. Due to their old age, however, plaintiffs have died one after another.
Masaaki Takano, 81, chairman of the Hiroshima Prefecture Atomic Bomb Black Rain Council, commented on the state’s counseling program, saying, “I took part in the first counselling session, but stopped going as I was just told that ‘there are no health effects’ (from black rain) and that ‘you are all right’. I want the central government to admit the fact that black rain did fall, and provide relief to the victims.”
◇Hibakusha: Hiroshima ‘black rain’ victim encouraged by plaintiff in Fukushima class action case via The Mainichi (February 20, 2016)
At the end of January, just after a spell of cold weather had swept across the Japanese archipelago, Seiji Takato checked a freshly printed newsletter he had been working on at his office in Hiroshima. He appeared satisfied. The newsletter contained a message from Ruiko Muto, the head of a group of plaintiffs seeking criminal prosecution of parties including Tokyo Electric Power Co. over the leak of radioactively contaminated water from the utility’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant into the ocean.
The 75-year-old former high school biology teacher and his acquaintances decided to publish the newsletter to show support for a group of 64 people who had filed a class action lawsuit against the Hiroshima prefectural and municipal governments. The 64 plaintiffs were demanding that those who were showered with “black rain” (rain mixed with fallout) in the wake of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, be recognized as A-bomb sufferers and be given handbooks that would enable them to receive health care benefits.
For the first issue of the newsletter, Takato, a black rain victim himself, included a piece by Muto.
“The case you have brought to the court is a very important lawsuit for Fukushima that deals with health damage caused by exposures to low doses of radiation. … Let’s join hands in a fight to protect all lives from nuclear threats,” reads Muto’s message.
Takato has paid attention to the government’s designation of evacuation areas around the Fukushima plant and the lifting of evacuation orders after the nuclear disaster, and he felt similarities with the handling of black rain, as authorities drew lines between the zones where people would be recognized as hibakusha and other areas. The health damage caused by exposure to radiation cannot be determined with sharp lines like those on a map.
“I always think about Fukushima,” Takato says. He asked Muto to write a piece for the newsletter via a mutual acquaintance.
In the course of meeting with Fukushima evacuees who had left their hometowns to come to Hiroshima and in talking with them on multiple occasions over the past five years, Takato sensed a perception among evacuees that evacuation was a bad thing. He was reminded of the resigned look on black rain sufferers’ faces when he launched a local victims’ association in 2002.
“We are just waiting to die,” one of the black rain victims said at the time.
Takato was encouraged by Muto’s words calling for cooperation among victims of nuclear weapons and nuclear catastrophes.